Em Michelle is a Los Angeles based Cinematographer & Camera Operator. She specializes in short format narrative, music videos, and commercials. She has shot for clients such as Maple Street Records, Mercari, My Brain is Rad, and Pure Noise Records. One of her photographs is featured in Spike Jonze’s FKA Twigs Music Video. She has worked in the camera department and studied under Cinematographers such as Claudio Miranda ASC, David Lanzenberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, Chris Manley ASC, Sharone Meir, Ramus Videbaek & Eric Steelberg ASC.
1. For the people who might not know you, who are you and what do you do?
My name is Em Michelle Gonzales and I am a cinematographer, camera operator, and camera assistant.
2. What are some projects that you have worked on?
My TV credits include Better Call Saul, Insecure (HBO), Preacher, (AMC), Counterpart (Starz). My movie credits include Independence Day: Resurgence, 12 Strong, Dreamland, and Dolemite is My Name. As a camera operator/cinematographer I have worked for clients such as Nike, Pure Noise Records, Mercari, Maple Street Records & more. I have been director of photography for several music videos, short films, and commercials.
3. How did you get started as a cinematographer?
I’ve always had a passion for storytelling and was involved in theater, including acting and directing and got some early tastes of film-making as a youth. I earned my B.A. in Photography from the University of New Mexico and immediately worked on film sets across the state. When I started working in the camera department, my desire was to take my technical knowledge from school and merge it with the creative aspect of storytelling. Since starting that journey over 5 years ago, I’ve picked up some unique expertise on big and small sets that has then translated into my personal work, in terms of photography and cinematography and allowed me to tell stories in new and innovative ways.
4. Who did you love working with on a past project and why?
When I’m working with friends, the project is almost always more rewarding. Working under Eric Steelberg ASC was a dream of mine because I was a big fan of his work before I assisted on one of his films. It was an incredible opportunity to learn and observe his unique process.
5. What has been your biggest accomplishment so far?
Paying rent while living in Los Angeles while still being able to pursue my passion
6. Who are some artists that inspire you and why?
My favorite film of 2018 was ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ in which Sayombhu Mukdeeprom shot the entire movie on a single lens. I loved how the color palette and simplicity of the visual language strengthened the romance and intimacy of the film. Lately, I have also been much inspired by Mexican art, both contemporary & Folklorico. Different from a recent trend in cinematography for filmmakers to desaturate an image, I feel more inspired by the vibrancy and life that occurs in the colors of a place like Mexico City, and how that can help tell a story that is equally powerful as it is intimate. The contrast between legend and modernism mixed with varying degrees of realism is like something I’ve never seen.
7. How do you organize, plan, and prioritize your work as a cinematographer?
I try to prioritize projects that really move me. When the story is good and well written, planning a shoot never feels like a chore. I prefer to figure out 99% of what we are doing in pre-production because good planning allows for greater creativity. That way, when we are all finally on set, it’s like riding the wave of all of our hard work.
8. What is your best memory from any set?
I did a TV show called Longmire in New Mexico and that crew always felt like family. From spending days climbing around mountains and watching beautiful sunsets to staying in old saloon hotels and drinking beers after work, we worked hard and played hard as a tight group of friends and creators.
9. Do you have a secret talent?
Definitely not. If eating cereal for dinner is a talent, then yes, I secretly have very refined taste in cereals.
10. What do you have in mind for the future?
I hope to work on stories that inspire people and/or make people laugh.
11. What is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
Go for it. Maybe everyone feels inadequate in their teenage years, but I also struggled with always feeling like the least talented person in comparison to my counterparts. I would tell myself to work hard at the things you love and just because you got cast as a masked, lime green, stretchy bag in sci-fi inspired Shakespeare play doesn’t mean you will be a failure.
12. What are some causes that are dear to your heart and hope to bring awareness to?
I want more women to feel like they have a voice within the film industry and especially in cinematography. But ultimately, movies have the power to make us feel less alone in this world, and I want people to feel inspired by the movies I’m involved in making. Movies have changed my life and I hope my projects help change someone else’s life.
Thank you so much to Em for this wonderful interview. You can find more about her and her work on: